Homily for the Solemnity of St Andrew

“Their sound has gone out through all the earth and their message to the ends of the earth.” That is from Psalm 18. It was quoted by St Paul in today’s 2nd reading. Because of that, it’s a verse much used on the feasts of the Apostles. Their voice, their message has gone out through all the earth. From Pentecost onwards, fired by the Holy Spirit, the Apostles preached the Gospel in the world of their day. James remained in Jerusalem. Peter and Paul, famously, ended in Rome. St Thomas made it to India, St Andrew to Greece. Wherever they went, they founded communities of believers. Some of them and some of their companions wrote the books and letters that comprise the New Testament. They appointed successors, as St Paul appointed Ss Timothy and Titus, and entrusted the same apostolic message to them. And so, through the preaching of the bishops of Rome, successors of Peter, and the other bishops in communion with them, through their helpers the priests and deacons, through Scripture, through the Liturgy, through the teaching of the Church, through the words and witness of so many faithful Christians, the sound of the apostolic faith ‘has gone out through all the earth and their message to the ends of the earth’. It has become ‘catholic’, universal. And needs to do so again and again in every generation.

And each feast of an apostle – today’s feast too – reminds us of all this. It should rekindle in us the desire to re-receive the apostolic faith and play our part in passing it on.

Last Sunday, I was at a concert. It was in a church. The orchestra, the Aberdeen Sinfonietta, was positioned in the sanctuary of the church, and we, the audience, in the nave. The more I looked at this, the more of a parable it seemed to me to be.

At first sight, you would think there were two things here: the orchestra and the audience. But there is a third and, without the third, there would be no concert; I mean, the composer. Mozart is long dead, but not his music. It was written down in a manuscript, printed and reprinted, and every member of the orchestra has the score and can reproduce it. Thanks to the violinists, cellists, flautists, timpanist and all the rest, the music comes into the here and now – at High Hilton church, one November afternoon. It passes from the orchestra to the ears of the audience, and from their ears into their brains and their whole bodies. If it is fine music, it lifts us up. It puts us into a kind of psychological ‘state of grace’. We feel better for it, less trapped by the daily grind. We feel energized. And when we go out into the dark, we carry the music with us. It keeps ringing in our hearts or on our lips.

“Their sound has gone out through all the earth and their message to the ends of the earth.”

Christ is our Mozart, our Bach, our Beethoven – our Bob Dylan, if you prefer. He has brought into our sad, noisy, tone-deaf world the eternal music of the Trinity, the primal symphony. He is the Singer and the Song. His whole divine humanity, his presence, his words, his actions, his relationships, his death and resurrection: it’s all an epiphany of divine beauty, truth and goodness. ‘Beautiful is God, the Word with God, said St Augustine…He is beautiful in heaven, beautiful on earth; beautiful in the womb, beautiful in his parents’ arms, beautiful in his miracles, beautiful in his sufferings, beautiful in inviting to life, beautiful in not worrying about death, beautiful in giving up his life, beautiful in taking it up again; he is beautiful on the Cross, beautiful in the tomb, beautiful in heaven. Listen to the song with understanding, and let not the weakness of the flesh distract your eyes from the splendor of his beauty.’

Jesus walking by the shore of the Lake of Galilee, seeing Peter and Andrew, James and John, and saying, ‘Come, follow me!’, is like Orpheus playing his lyre or the Pied Piper of Hamelin. And these men were captured by the music of this passing minstrel. ‘They left their nets at once and followed him.’ And in Galilee and Judea, in the fields and the houses, on the road and in the Upper Room, he formed them, as it were, into his Sinfonietta, with Peter as first violin. He entrusted the score of his revelation to them, poor tuneless men. But, with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, how they came to play it! – with their whole lives as instrument, even, in St Andrew’s case, as his brother Peter’s, to death on a cross.

“Their sound has gone out through all the earth and their message to the ends of the earth.”

‘Faith comes through hearing’, says St Paul. Brothers and sisters, this is the music we want to hear. We want to enter our brains and bodies, have it in our hearts and on our lips, and sing it out for the sake of the world. ‘If your lips confess that Jesus is Lord and if you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, then you will be saved’ – and be a source of salvation to others. ‘Listen to the song with understanding’, says St Augustine, a great singer in his turn. This is the music we want to hear and play. There’s none like it. It’s of a different world than the psychobabble and political correctness and philosophies, New Age and otherwise, that besiege our ears, or all the cacophonies of hate. It’s from above, from the heavenly Father. It’s the music of grace and mercy, of the beatitudes. It is the song which is Jesus. It is incomparable. St Andrew, fishing away, happened one day to hear it. He was entranced by it. He joined the apostolic orchestra and learned it. He studied the score in prayer. He practised it, played it, sang it. He became pure instrument for this divine sound. He passed it on, and he sings it still. May he help us to do something of the same!

(St Mary’s Cathedral, Aberdeen, 30 November 2016)


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